This Ain’t Your Average Goal Setting Post

21st December 2016

Tempus fugit, y’all. Time flies. We are at the end of another year.

Say it with me:

“Next year will be different.”

This past year was rough for a lot of my friends and neighbors. It was rough for a lot of the world. There is a lot that is uncertain. I feel uneasy about the state of things. Maybe you do, too. Many things are out of our hands.

But then again, many things are in our hands.

If you’re anything like me, you look back at the past year and compare all the things you managed to accomplish with the litany of things that you set out to do in January.

“I was going to go through all of the Marchesi exercises.”
“I was going to revamp my aria package.”
“I was going to research and learn repertoire for that competition.”
“I was going to improve my [insert language here].”
“I was going to improve my network—I was going to make connections.”

So—why didn’t you? Why didn’t I?

The answer is: lots of reasons. Reasons that matter, and, for our intents and purposes, don’t matter a whit for what’s to come in this next season of growth.

There are a lot of people on this here magical Internet who would like you to believe that you will achieve any goal you set.

I don’t do the lying thing, so I’m about to say something that may raise a few eyebrows.

We don’t achieve things just because of our effort.

Man, does that suck. I’m mad about it. You should be, too.

If you try, and you try hard, and you do a good job, you should Get the Thing™. That makes like, sense, or something.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works.

Effort + Heart + Good Work ≠ Achievement

I can’t promise you that you that you’ll get into that young artist program, win that competition, or even sing five arias well at the end of this next month, season, year, whatever.

Those sorts of things involve a LOT of variables. I also suck at math, so don’t ask me for more equations with fewer variables.

What I can promise you is that you definitely won’t come close–not even a little bit–to achieving any of the things you want if you don’t start down the long, sometimes-arduous path of Doing the Work. 

So what?

Over the next few days, my dear Invisible Internet Audience, I am going to share with you a few of the ways that I reflect on my progress, set goals, and begin doing the work to achieve those goals. 

I am a work in progress. You are, too. I’m not going to pretend to have it figured out and I don’t expect you to have it figured out after reading this series.

What I do expect, though, is that you’ll come away with it with a little bit of a clearer vision on how to get just a little bit closer to making this next year a little bit different. 

I keep saying “a little bit” because that’s the key. We’re making things a little bit different.

If you want to join me, and not miss a single post, sign up for my new email newsletter here.

Let’s do this.

Southern Fried Soprano - A Note Before Voice Juries

A Note Before Voice Juries

11th December 2016

Southern Fried Soprano - A Note Before Voice Juries

Dear Me,

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”

What are you so afraid of, anyway?

Singing a wrong note? Missing an entrance? Being out of tune?

So what if you do? So what if you are?
What happens then?

Does someone die?

Does the composer rise from the grave and materialize before you, cursing your name, your voice, your career?

Have you ruined art?

No.

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

You love singing. More than anything in this world.

Do you remember when you were little–before you knew what all those words in a foreign language and dots on the staff meant?

Do you remember how you used to go in the backyard, all alone, and you would sing about the leaves and the birds and the dirt and the bugs and the rocks and the pavement and the sun and the sky and the moon and the fence and the light and the water and the dog…

Do you remember that you didn’t care whether or not it sounded good?

Do you remember what you thought if someone heard?

Your first thought was to stop, giggle to yourself, and then carry on as if the possibility of being overheard wasn’t embarrassing but exciting?

Do you remember when you got a bit older, you used you to sit in your room, door shut tight, crouched over your choir music, studying and singing for hours on end?

It wasn’t easy to learn the part. But you weren’t concerned.

Do you remember that it wasn’t a matter of if you were ever good… you would practice until you got there.

“Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”

Then you went to school, and you learned what all those black dots on the staff meant. You learned the meaning of those strange words on the page.

And it was great to know things. It was good.

Somewhere along the way, you became convinced that making a mistake meant something bigger than just.. making a mistake. You thought, all of a sudden, that your mistake was a statement on you. On your dedication, your preparation, your talent, your gift.

You forgot to just sing.

“Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.”

Are you really all that different from the little girl singing to herself in the backyard?

Two decades older, two academic degrees later.. a lot of knowledge and a lot of songs sung.

What has changed?

Nothing.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

This is my prayer for you tomorrow, when you walk into the room and sing your voice jury: that you remember that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t even have to be good.

You don’t have to be anything at all, but the little girl in the backyard who loved to sing.

No, loves to sing.

She still does. And always will.

Now–go sing.

(poetry is Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”)
Gifts for Singers

Gifts for Singers

8th December 2016

It’s hard to buy a gift for an opera singer.

You want to give something that says “hey, I just knew you’d love and could use this” … or at least “please, dear God, don’t throw this in the trash.”

But what do you give a singer, anyway?

A scarf?
A dump truck load of Mucinex?
Cough drops arranged in some sort of ungodly edible arrangement?
A… CD (do people buy CDs anymore)?

Have no fear, dear reader. I’m here for you. The answer is…

A large bag of money!

… I’m realistic, though, and realize that you may not have access to a large bag of money. You still may want to give that special singer in your life something, though, so…

If you’re playing Santa Claus to a singer this year, these singer-centric gifts are sure to please.

(Oh, and before you ask–I’m not getting paid to plug any of these things! I just think they’re cool.)

Southern Fried Soprano - Gifts for Singers

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Baby, It’s Cold Inside (My House)

5th December 2016

southern-fried-soprano-baby-cold-outside

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

While I’m sure that chestnuts are roasting on an open fire somewhere, here in Wichita, Kansas, yours truly has Jack Frost nipping at her nose in her ground-level apartment. It’s chilly in here, y’all. And before you ask, the thermostat is set at 70, so.. it’s not like I’m trying to save (frozen) pennies. I just get cold easily, apparently.

I seem to be doing better than last year, though! Progress! I swore that this year, the year of our Lord 2016, I would not be wearing two sets of pajama pants, two sets of socks, a shirt, and a hoodie (zipped up, duh) to bed… to sleep under my four (count ’em, FOUR) blankets.

I told you I get cold.

I did myself a huge favor and moved my bed from under the window in my bedroom. My highly scientific observation (re: singer paranoia and anecdotal evidence) is that this keeps me from Drafty Winds™. It seems to be working well so far–while I’m still wearing a light sweater and slipper socks to bed, I haven’t felt the need to Suit Up™ to do what normal humans do for 6-7 hours a night. I also got a rearranged room out of the bargain, which has just got to be good for my psyche or something.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, Y’ALL.

Y’all know I love seasonal things, so I’m trying to slow down and savor this holiday season as much as I possibly can. I felt super cheated out of fall this year (singer scheduling can be a beast, man), despite consuming practically every pumpkin-related thing in my immediate (and not-so-immediate) vicinity.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the mess of parties, gift exchanges, concerts, and last-minute get-togethers. Get on Pinterest (here’s my Christmas Pinterest board) and lose yourself in the recipes, the gift ideas.. It’s easy to forget just how much we need to stop and pay attention to what’s going on around us.

Things are pretty bleak in the world right now–and they have been for awhile, honestly. It feels like the ugliness of humanity has just been bubbling under the surface for quite some time, and it has taken some recent current events to make a lot of us acutely aware of it.

It’s almost like this season–this holiday season–is coming at just the right time. We need a little goodness and cheer right now. I don’t think the world needs another Dirty Santa gift exchange, but it sure could use a few friends or coworkers coming together and laughing and sharing. It could use a few more book and toy drives, people taking time to donate food for holiday dinners.. it could use a lot of those things year-round, really. It’s a shame that it takes us until November or so to start acting like we care about our fellow human beings.

My friends laugh at me because I decorate my voice studio office door for the holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, various December holidays…). I laugh, too. I buy things from the discount store and hang them up on the walls. I wear silly hats.

But I don’t know.. maybe there’s something more to it, for me. I tell my students all the time that you’ve got to have something silly in your life.. something silly, something that no one can take away from you. Something you can turn to when things are tiring or frustrating.

Me? During this time of year, when I smell cinnamon and apples and fresh pine needles, when I drink hot cider, when I can admire lights on houses.. when people seem to care just a little bit more about each other, when I find the perfect little gift for a friend or family member..

It never really seems cold in my house at all.

Southern Fried Soprano: It's November

It’s November, Y’all

1st November 2016

Southern Fried Soprano: It's November

Can I be honest with y’all? I know I can, because you’re my Invisible Internet Audience™, which means I can always talk to you.

It’s November. Yes. Which means it’s been.. a hot second since my last post. (For those of you playing at home, my most recent update was in May.) I didn’t write a single word over the summer.

Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t think about writing. I definitely thought about it. There were times over the summer when all I wanted to do was scream from the top of my lungs about the things I was experiencing and feeling–things that I haven’t felt or experienced for a long while, and things I don’t really wish for anyone to feel or experience any time soon.

What I should have done was take out my personal diary and write those things down. Process those things fully but privately–in a way that still made me feel like I was telling someone but not, you know, telling someone (like my Invisible Internet Audience™).

But I didn’t do that either, honestly. I did, however, talk to some really cherished friends and family members (y’all know who you are, shout out to you), who put up with me despite my endless talking in circles (I kind of feel like I’m doing that right now?).

Instead of processing my feelings like a mature human being, I took a lot of bubble baths and watched more than my fair share of bad court television. I told you I was good at wallowing.

Anyway.

This is all to say that the past few months have been difficult, but ultimately good. Hard, but necessary. Refining, in a way.

The last few months have tested me; they have asked questions that I am not sure I can answer now (or maybe ever!). … which reminds me!

I first learned about Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet during my summer at Arkansas Governor’s School. Rilke’s advice is not just for artists; it rings true for anyone who’s a member of the great mass of humanity. I walked into my Area II class (thanks, Bryan Cwik [now Ph.D! man, tempus fugit] with this quote on the chalkboard:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I learned a lot of things from Bryan Cwik’s Area II class, but this is probably the thing that has changed my life the most. I picked up a copy of Rilke’s letters and devoured it. I return to his words again and again when I need inspiration, comfort, or guidance. Excerpts are posted on the door to my voice studio so my students can read them.

This seems to be one of those times when I needed to read Rilke’s words again.

I am, perhaps gradually, without noticing it, living along these distant days since my last post into the answers that the questions of this summer asked of me.

In short, it’s good to be back. I’m glad you’re still here, Invisible Internet Audience™.

 

4 Unexpected Things My First Year of Grad School Taught Me

16th May 2016

4 Things Grad School Taught Me

If this post is published, it means I have finished my first year of my graduate degree in opera performance!

Where does the time go? (Although–since I’m taking things 10 minutes at a time, I’m all-too-aware of just how fast it can go!)

I could write a retrospective post on all the musical or academic things I’ve learned since I arrived in Wichita and began classes, but… I think I’d like to share a few unexpected things I’ve learned.

If you already know these things, congratulations to you! I am but a Helpless Grub™.

Without further ado, I present to you:

4 Things My First Year of Grad School Taught Me

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How I Changed My Life in 10 Minutes

29th April 2016

Change Your Life in Ten Minutes Have you ever wanted to be great at something?

Okay, maybe that’s a stupid question. Of course you have. Whether you’re a singer like me or an aspiring underwater basket-weaver, you probably have something you’ve wanted to get really, really good at doing. Something you love that you want to master.

In case you haven’t caught on by now (or this is your first time visiting my blog, in which case, my most sincere apologies and HOWDY AND WELCOME), I love singing. It’s not only my career but also my deepest passion. I want to become a great singer. I will settle for nothing less than greatness.

The thing that super-duper sucks, though? The process of becoming great at anything (singing included) is, well..  often not so great.

When I was in undergrad, I spent a lot of time in the practice room. I mean a lot of time. An ungodly amount of time. We’re talking four to five hours at a time.

I know what you’re thinking. “But Georgeanne! That’s great! What a blessing it is to sit in a practice room and just work on your craft! Didn’t Malcolm Gladwell say that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at anything? Think of all the time you put in!”.

And yeah, sure. I spent like, a lot of time in a practice room…. staring at the piano. Staring at my music. Singing through my music from beginning to end over and over and over. Avoiding singing because I hated the sounds that were coming out of my mouth. Hating myself. Hating that I couldn’t walk into that room with a new piece and come out two hours later with it learned and technically perfect. I wanted to be great.

I wanted to be great right now.

I started to dread going to practice. Which, if you’re a singer.. is not such a good thing.

This is the part of the blog where I skip ahead a few years and hit you with some magic wisdom. I graduated in 2013. It’s now 2016. Do the math (I’m really bad at math, but I think that’s three years).

I’ve stopped spending entire afternoons in practice rooms drowning in a delightful combination of self-loathing and desperation.  I don’t dread going to practice. I look forward to it.

I’ve started to take things ten minutes at a time. And I guarantee you I’m a better singer than I ever would be if I spent five hours stretches in the practice room.

I’ve learned over the last few years that no matter how overwhelming a task may be, what gets it done is small, small steps. Climbing a mountain is not achieved by reaching the pinnacle–it’s achieved by the how-ever-many-steps you took to get to the top.

When I walk into a practice room or sit down to practice in my apartment (what’s up upstairs neighbors, you’re welcome, I’m not charging), I set a timer for ten minutes. I also set my intention for those ten minutes: “okay, I’m going to work [these measures] of [this song].” “For ten minutes, I will really work on some agility exercises to strengthen my coloratura.”

No matter how tired, discouraged, or frustrated I am–no matter how overwhelming a task may be, I can always give ten minutes of focused, intentional effort. And then maybe I can give ten more minutes. And ten more minutes. And before I know it, an hour has gone by, I’ve sung through all my repertoire or sung some difficult technical exercises.

There’s not enough time in ten minutes to let fear take over. Ten minutes is a decidedly non-scary amount of time. It’s long enough to get something done, yet short enough to make things seem manageable. When that timer goes off, if I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown because I still can’t float that high Bb the way I want to.. I move on to something else.

Do I expect to become great in ten minutes? No. Not a chance! And that’s part of the magic. You can’t go from decent to great in ten minutes. But those ten minute chunks of practice add up. I see the ten minute blocks add up in my practice journal, day after day.

How do I know it’s working? My teachers, coaches, and peers can tell. I can tell when I listen to my recordings. I haven’t become Maria Callas overnight (if and when I figure that out, I am certainly not telling y’all that little secret), but I’m definitely ten minutes closer to greatness.

Those ten minute chunks remind me that I’m taking steps every day to the top of the mountain.

So, dear reader, tell me.

What could you spend ten minutes doing today? What’s something you want to get good at doing? Can you set a timer and work for ten minutes on that thing?

I bet you can. You’ll come away from those ten minutes knowing your life has changed just a little bit.

Start the timer. The clock is ticking.


Once your work session is up, take a well-deserved break with a time-themed playlist!

Fairport Convention – Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
Rolling Stones – Time Is On My Side
Chicago – Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella – Ten Minutes Ago
Ke$ha – TiK ToK
Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years – The Next Ten Minutes

Midweek Reads // 2

26th April 2016

midweek reads

Isn’t it strange that when we seem to have… a lot of time on our hands, we can’t find anything to do?

It’s a stormy evening here in Kansas–so stormy, in fact, they closed my school at noon. Whoa! On any given day, I’m not home until at least 6PM, so if you give me five hours of unexpected free time.. I’m not really sure what to do with them? Ironic, considering I’ve got lists upon lists of uncompleted tasks and things to get done.

Sometimes, the only thing to do is take a cue from the universe and chill. So here I am! Chilling.

I’m using a little bit of this free evening to go through the things I’ve “saved to read later” on Facebook and Pocket. What have I been digging on the Internet lately? Here’s my second edition (almost a year later, haha) of Midweek Reads:

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Calm Before the Storm

20th March 2016

Southern Fried Soprano - Calm Before the Storm

 

It’s quiet. Too quiet.

Or, rather, it’s just quiet enough. I am soaking up every last drop of stillness, as I’m not going to get a lot of peace and quiet over the next two weeks.

This coming week is Holy Week, so when I’m not teaching lessons, in class, or in rehearsals for the opera (or, God forbid, practicing), you can probably find me downtown at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, singing in a service.

The week after Easter? It’s TECH WEEK for Les Indes Galantes at Wichita State University. I’ll be in show mode.

So, yeah. Thank goodness I have had the past seven days of Spring Break to relax and gear up for the inevitable storm. Since I’ve been out of the school game for a couple of years, I had forgotten how cool Spring Break actually was.

I’m pretty pleased with how I spent my break, all in all. It was a good mix of Bruno Mars “The Lazy Song” and productivity. I hung out with friends, watched a lot of basketball, petted my dog, slept in without an alarm… but I also started a new practice regimen for the remainder of March (#NoMercyMarch) and cleaned my apartment.

I know there’s not going to be much wiggle room these next two weeks, so I prepped all of my lunches and dinners for the week.. I got my grocery shopping done, my house cleaned, my floors vacuumed, and, perhaps most impressive of all, I did all of my laundry so I’m not a low-key Pig Pen from Peanuts.

Has it been the most exciting and scandalous way to spend my final day of Spring Break? No. Of course not. But, you know, while I maintain that being a singer is super glamorous, what’s even more glamorous is not worrying about having lunch made for the next day. The most glamorous thing?

Having clean underwear.

So, if you don’t mind, I’ll sit back, relax, and enjoy the last few minutes of quiet I can get. How do you prepare for busy times?